All of us have confided in a friend about something we did or experienced that we know was—how do I put this—not so flattering, maybe incriminating, illegal, dumb, something we are not proud of. But what happens when you write about that “something” and then you read it out loud at a literary event in public?
Been there. Personal essay writers are goofy people, you know.
Tonight, I’m planning to read a story at a live literary event that doesn’t shine the judgmental light on ME, but on someone else. Someone I love.
The story is part of a manuscript, a creative nonfiction book. At this reading, I’m segmenting a part of the bigger project to offer up a 10-minute story of music, love, and weed. Marijuana. Ii think it’s a good story. But what responsibility do we have as writers to tell these stories, especially read them, out loud receptive people when the stories are not solely about us—the writer—but about someone else?
We have tons of responsibility. We have to ask. We have to let the person who is the focus of the story hear our side, read our work, and allow them to respond. Do they want this out in the open? Are they okay with this? I’m not saying you have to change what you write. After all, the story is yours. It is your recollection and memory. But they have every right to tell you they don’t like it or don’t want it read to a large crowd at a bookstore. Then, you—and only you—have to decide what’s next.
Luckily, in my case, the person in question is quite willing to be the focus, to take the heat, to be the center of attention in a story that, well, doesn’t necessarily flatter her.
All of this on my mind at the Hemingway House as I write in my borrowed attic office. Hemingway penned mostly fiction, but much of it was autobiographical in many ways. And yes, he made plenty of enemies using real people as characters. And in his creative nonfiction work—Death in the Afternoon, A Moveable Feast, and others—he wrote about real people and real events, and many of them loathed him for it.
Write the truth to the best of your knowledge. But tell your story as you see it, as you remember it factually and emotionally. Be honest, be fair, and offer it up for scrutiny. But always go out and tell it with everything you got—confidence, meaning, and passion. It is the only way.